Federal complaint: IAM union opt-out requirement to escape payment for union officials’ political activities violates Supreme Court’s Janus precedent
Austin, TX (May 23, 2019) – A United Airlines fleet service employee has filed a class action lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union challenging its requirement that he “opt-out” of paying for union officials’ political and ideological activities.
According to the complaint, which was filed with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the opt-out scheme violates workers’ rights under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), and the First Amendment under the standard laid out in the landmark 2018 Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME. The lawsuit contends that, under Janus as well as the 2012 Knox v. SEIU Supreme Court case – both of which were argued by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys – no union dues or fees can be charged beyond the maximum that can legally be required without a worker’s affirmative consent.
The employee, Arthur Baisley, is not a member of the IAM but is still forced to pay union fees. Despite being based in the Right to Work state of Texas, the Railway Labor Act pre-empts state Right to Work protections which make union membership and financial support strictly voluntary. However, under longstanding law even without Right to Work protections, nonmembers cannot be required to fund a union’s ideological activities such as lobbying and politics.
The lawsuit challenges the burdensome procedure IAM union officials created for workers seeking to exercise their right not to fund the “nonchargable” activities. The complaint lays out the convoluted union boss-created process that workers must jump through just to prevent dues from being taken in violation of their First Amendment rights.
Baisley’s experience with these requirements demonstrates how the opt-out procedure is used to violate workers’ rights by getting them to pay for union politics without their consent. Even though he sent a letter to IAM agents in November 2018 to object to funding all union political activities, the union officials only accepted his objection for 2019, and told Baisley he would be required to renew his objection to full dues and fees next year or else be charged for full union dues.
The complaint challenges this union-created policy on the grounds that it “require[s] employees to opt-out of paying union fees that they have no legal obligation to pay” and thus breaches workers’ First Amendment rights. The complaint also alleges that the IAM’s “opt-out requirement” violates the RLA, which governs labor in the air and rail industries and “protects the right of employees to ‘join, organize, or assist in organizing’ a union of their choice as well as the right to refrain from any of those activities.”
The class action lawsuit asks the court to strike down the op-out requirement not only as it is applied to Baisley, but also for his coworkers whose rights are similarly restricted by the IAM’s illegal policy. Union officials would then be required to get nonmember workers to give affirmative consent to paying for union boss activities beyond what nonmember workers can legally be required to subsidize under the RLA.
“For too long union bosses have enforced deliberately complicated opt-out requirements with the aim of trapping workers into paying for union boss politics despite the fact that, as nonmembers, they have already chosen not to affiliate with the union,” said National Right to Work President Mark Mix. “The case shows the far-reaching implications of the Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME case, which ruled government unions must get public employees to affirmatively consent before funding a union because all speech directed at the government is inherently political.”
“This case simply seeks to apply the same legal standard to workers like Mr. Baisley who are subjected to mandatory union payments under the Railway Labor Act by requiring union officials to get workers to opt-in to the portion of dues that the union already admits is spent on ideological and political activities,” added Mix.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in around 250 cases nationwide per year.